Symonds Street Cemetery

72 Karangahape Road, 105-107, 120 Symonds Street and St Martins Lane, AUCKLAND

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Symonds Street Cemetery is one of New Zealand's oldest urban cemeteries, and possibly the earliest established under direct colonial government control. Located on Auckland's Symonds Street ridge, it accommodated burials from 1841, the same year that Auckland became capital of the new colony of New Zealand. Prior Maori use of the ridge had included pa sites and cultivations to the north, and a track may have run through or close to the site. When first established the cemetery lay well away from the colonial town, including its churches. This differed from earlier graveyards in New Zealand, such as those at Kororareka and Paihia, which followed the traditional British model of burial in churchyards. Physical separation was partly a response to prevailing concerns about the effects of burial grounds on public health, but also reflected the influence of broader Enlightenment ideas on the new colony, which stressed the separation between church and state. The greater egalitarian sentiments of these ideas can also be seen in the apparent establishment of the initial burial ground as a general cemetery, for the burial of all inhabitants irrespective of religious denomination. The earliest cemetery may have incorporated an area as large as 3.75 hectares (8¾ acres). In 1842 representations from the Anglican and Catholic authorities, in particular, led to the creation of an enlarged cemetery of 7.5 hectares (18½ acres). This was divided into four separate parts according to religious denomination to form Jewish, Catholic, and Anglican burial grounds, and a shared Wesleyan, Presbyterian and General graveyard for low-church Protestant faiths and others. These were laid out on either side of a major route south of Auckland, now known as Symonds Street. The Anglican graveyard incorporated the earlier cemetery, which led to fierce debate at the time. The size of each group's allocation was based on a government census which, among other things, determined the number of adherents to each faith. By 1852, the cemetery was further reorganised to include a separate section for Presbyterians on the site of the previous Wesleyan, Presbyterian and General cemetery. A new Wesleyan and General cemetery was added to the northern end of the Anglican graveyard. Major changes occurred through the 1860s and 1870s, when ideas about cemeteries as places of moral contemplation and edification led to a general beautification of the burial grounds. Trees were planted and paths were laid out. Monuments also often became more elaborate. Burials were subsequently restricted due to overcrowding but the cemetery remained Auckland's main burial ground until a new cemetery was established at Waikumete in 1886. The Symonds Street Cemetery was subsequently taken over as a public reserve and was simultaneously modified with the construction of public amenities, such as Grafton Bridge - the largest single-span reinforced concrete structure in the world when built - and other facilities. In the 1960s, approximately a quarter of the cemetery was destroyed during the construction of the Southern Motorway. The remaining cemetery still encompasses approximately 5.8 hectares (over 14 acres), and is visually distinctive for including a wooded and green space in the city centre. It can be estimated to contain the burials of some 10,000 or more individuals, less than a quarter of which may be marked by surviving monuments. A great variety of people of differing age, sex, class, ethnic background and religious faith were buried in the cemetery, including some Maori. Surviving monuments reflect some of this diversity in their form and inscriptions. Prominent individuals laid to rest in the cemetery include New Zealand's first colonial Governor, William Hobson (1783-1842), who was responsible for the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, missionaries such as the Reverend John Hobbs (1800-1883), and early traders such as Frederick Maning (1811/1812?-1883) author of Old New Zealand. Significant events commemorated by burials include the sinking of the HMS Orpheus in 1863, New Zealand's worst maritime disaster, and the battle of Rangiriri in the third New Zealand - or Waikato - War (1863-4). The cemetery still contains many of the trees planted during beautification, which themselves had symbolic meaning. The cemetery remains an outstandingly important repository of information about colonial New Zealand and New Zealanders, and is still used for commemorative events, heritage walks and wedding ceremonies.

Symonds Street Cemetery | J Douglas | 15/08/2014 | Heritage New Zealand
Symonds Street Cemetery | J Douglas | 15/08/2014 | Heritage New Zealand
Symonds Street Cemetery. Karangahape Rocks’ sculpture fountain in Pigeon Park, former Jewish burial ground | J Douglas | 15/08/2014 | Heritage New Zealand



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

6th June 2008

Date of Effect

6th June 2008

City/District Council

Auckland Council


Auckland Council

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Pt Lots 1 & 2 DP 18958 (NZ Gazette 1994, p.2588), Pts Lot 2 DP 18958 (NZ Gazette 1990, pp.2010 & 2989, and NZ Gazette 2005, p.1806), part of Symonds Street road reserve, and Lot 2 DP 27745 (RT NA719/204), North Auckland Land District, and the structures associated with the Symonds Street Cemetery thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the Registration Report for further information). The registration includes the land and carriageways of Symonds Street and the motorway on-ramp, the wall structures on either side of Symonds Street including that between the east side of the street and the motorway on-ramp, and the Centennial Memorial Chapel and Mortuary. The registration excludes the land and structures occupied by Grafton Bridge (including its piers, eastern abutment and two sets of entrance steps to the cemetery) and the Bus Shelter and Toilets building on Symonds Street, as both have been separately registered by the NZHPT.

Legal description

Pt Lots 1 & 2 DP 18958 (NZ Gazette 1994, p.2588), Pts Lot 2 DP 18958 (NZ Gazette 1990, pp.2010 & 2989, and NZ Gazette 2005, p.1806), part of Symonds Street road reserve, and Lot 2 DP 27745 (RT NA719/204), North Auckland Land District

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